Magazine article The Spectator

Artistic Antics

Magazine article The Spectator

Artistic Antics

Article excerpt

New York

During the late-Fifties, I was a regular at El Morocco, the trendiest and chicest nightspot of the Bagel. Elmo's was zebrastriped, had a strict hierarchy of good tables and, of course, on the western side of the room, a so-called Siberia section, where rubes and vulgarians were assigned.

Angelo, the aloof maitre d' - extremely strict where the dress code was concerned, but kind with children of regulars -- always tried his best to accommodate the then truly poor little Greek boy. In fact, when Reinaldo Herrera Sr or Aristotle Onassis were absent, I sometimes got their table, the first banquette as one came in on the right. All that meant was that I was the most important person in the room. At times the false impression even paid off. Girls, after all, prefer winners to nobodies.

One night I was seated at the secondbest table next to a dusky lady whose companion kept going to the telephone. I asked Angelo who the man was and he told me it was an art dealer by the name of Daniel Wildenstein. Art dealers back then were not as important as they are now. For one thing they were poorer. So I chatted up the lady who quickly informed me that she was an Afghan princess. Afghanis back then were not as important as they are now. Most of us had no idea where their country was exactly located.

Daniel Wildenstein, however, turned out to be an exception. He was filthy rich, a third generation art dealer, but one who took a great dislike to the poor little Greek boy. Perhaps it was something I said about French performance during May 1940 (he was a patriotic Frenchman, of course); it could also have been because I asked the Afghani princess how many goats she owned. He asked Angelo to move me, and when Angelo refused, he left the club in an Orlando Furioso mood.

A sort of guerrilla war ensued, Wildenstein making faces whenever I appeared, poor little me talking non-stop about the traffic jam which the fleeing French troops created in their hurry to get to the Riviera rather than making the acquaintance of Panzers. Then both Daniel and I moved to Paris and never saw each other again. During the late-Sixties I played quite a lot of polo against his younger son, Guy, and my buddy John Aspinall had me to dinner a couple of times with Alec and the bride of Wildenstein. …

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